Sunday, January 30, 2011

Year 1, Semester 2, Week 2 Recap

A lot went on this week, most of which was productive.

GIS (Global Information Systems)
As part of my tool set, I'm taking a course in civil engineering on how to use ArcGIS. By the end of the semester I will at the very least know how to make and manipulate maps in the program. All of the projects for the course have to be posted on a website, so that was the first task: setting up my website. I really got excited about this and decided to set it up for more than just this class, but it contains a link specifically for GIS. Here's the link for my website! I completely blew off setting up the free web space provided to me while I was at Penn State, and in retrospect I wish I had used it.

The focus of this class is going to be "macroecology", which is simply a research method for describing general patterns in complex systems. I had forgotten at the time, but it's my turn to pick the reading for next week. We're also reading chapters out of James Brown's book, Macroecology. This class has a blog associated with it, and in addition to picking a paper to read, I need to write a blog post about the book chapter and the paper. That will be up later in the week.

I'm taking a class that is explicitly about blogging about topics in biology. Everyone in the course has to contribute on blog post during the semester and aid in editing those posts before they go up. We critiqued a really nicely written blog on field work in Peru. It was written in a narrative style, and I think by the time it is ready to go up it will be very polished. There is a link to the BioBlog on the main page of this blog as well as the UNM biology website. The goal is to produce a very professional style of blog. Readers can look forward to a variety of topics being covered: all written by different authors and all written very well. I need to write my contribution for class next week. The point is the have everyone in the class read it and make constructive criticism before it finally goes up. My post will be live in about two weeks.

I am teaching two sections of laboratory this semester on Thursdays at 8am and 7pm, for 2-hours and 50-minutes each. This week went surprisingly well, with the exception of one technological malfunction that was no one's fault. I'll be teaching about evolution and ecology with a heavy emphasis on the diversity of life. My morning students were really great, we had good discussion, and everyone was surprisingly chipper for so early in the morning. My evening class was much smaller and they were reluctant to talk or participate. They are going to need to consume some sugar or caffeine before that class, because I'm going to continue pressuring them to participate. I think that in general, however, we all got off to a really positive start. Let's keep the momentum going!

Grad Evolution
A classmate and I are leading the discussion in class next week on sexual selection. We have picked two interesting papers on allometry: selection for fin size in a species of female fish, and selection for mandible size in male dung beetles. The same student and I are also working on a project together: we have to analyze a data set and write a 5-page paper on our results. Felisa gave me some really great data, which we can hopefully use to do a really meaningful paper.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Today I set my blog so that it won't track my own browser. Now I can accurately see how many views this thing gets. Time to get obsessed over statistics!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Getting This Ball Rolling

We're in our second week of classes, and already I feel like this is going to be one seriously busy semester. I'm happy to report that so far it seems like the GIS class I'm taking is going to be useful. The instructor showing us how to setup our webspace (provided by the university), so soon I'll have a website up and running. I'll be putting my GIS projects on it, as well as other things related to school. It'll be easy to share things like my CV and research interests with people if I can direct them to a website.

I've been inundated with reading so far. I just finished printing about 50 pages worth of background information for one of my classes this week. There are also projects and discussions to start preparing for. All the more reason to stay on top of everything and not let myself get bogged down.

My first TA meeting is this afternoon. I read through the labs last night, and about half of it is identical to what I taught last semester. The other half is straight forward enough. Tonight, after doing some reading, I'm going to start putting together some powerpoints for my lessons on Thursday. I want them to be interactive enough, so that people don't fall asleep. 

I'm also excited about the BioBlog, which I will post a link to once it is up and running. The Paleoecology class I'm taking also has a blog associated with it, and I am a contributor to that. There should be public access to see that blog here as well.

Productivity, ahoy!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Reading and Funding

I have about a month to try to get some money to start up some research.

Felisa sent out several emails about research funding to our lab group, all of which have February deadlines. That means I need to get cracking on putting a project together. I meant to get started on this over my break, like so many other things that just didn't happen due to sickness or whatever. But now there are no more excuses. I have plenty of ideas, but they need to be fleshed out.

This semester is also going to be all about reading. I spent some time yesterday looking up papers for me to read this week, since my teaching obligations don't start until the second week of school. They are on tooth stable isotope analyses for the most part. I also found several that are written by the visiting professor I am hosting in February. I have a general idea of what she does, but I want to be more familiar with it all by the time she gets here. That seems like an important thing to do.

I got up at a reasonable time this morning. The real test will be this week, seeing if I can get myself to stick to my 7am wake up time and get myself in a normal schedule.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Things Are Slowly Picking Back Up

All the teaching assistants had their meeting the other day and I got assigned to teach the ecology and evolution biology core course. The lab portion teaches about the diversity of life, and I'm happy to say that I'm co-TAing with my friend Virginia. I know the other TAs for the course as well, and I am confident that we'll all work together well and that there won't be any problems. Felisa is teaching a portion of the course, I don't know the other professor.

The meeting was very long, about 3 hours. Every time a new semester begins there are a few new TAs so we have to go over everything which is a little tedious. Not to mention that sitting around that long without food or drink is a little rough for me. We got a short break, but nothing that would allow me to go recharge with a snack or something other than water. There was no indication that the meeting was going to be that long, which irked me a bit, but it is what it is. In a way, it's good that we went over everything again because there were some details that I had forgotten from the beginning of last semester. However, by about the 3rd or 4th time I teach I'm probably going to have everything down and I'll be really bored at these meetings.

I think I have my final schedule solidified. I am excited to take the GIS course, but it overlaps with my lab group's weekly meeting. I hope this isn't too big of an issue, I know Felisa will be annoyed that I won't be there, but I think we all agreed that I should acquire this tool and I signed up for the class that was recommended to me. There is another one, but it meets longer during the week and I was told it wasn't as good as the one I'm signed up for. I'm also expecting to work on a project next fall that will involve using GIS, so it is really important that I get this under my belt now rather than later. If I can learn GIS, I should be able to do some really cool stuff, research wise. This means when I get back to going to the lab group meetings, I'll have something interesting to talk about.

I have a three day weekend because of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday. It's a nice day today, so I'm going to get out this afternoon to enjoy it. I'm also going to use this extra time to do some reading and getting ready for classes.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Back to School, Spring 2011

Happy 2011!

A new semester is beginning next week, and the first TA meeting is tomorrow afternoon. I don't know what I'm teaching, but hopefully it will be something I enjoy. I hate that I'm not finding out my assignment until so last minute, but I'll have a full week to prep for whatever it is. Thanks to the holiday on Monday, they are waiting until the second week to start the labs so that everyone is on the same track.

As far as how this semester goes, last semester was a real eye opener. These aren't the same students that I had in my Penn State geology classes. I did have some really great students, and lots of "ok" students, but there were more problems than I was prepared for. I'm going to have to crack down this semester, for my own sanity.

In a way, I'm hoping I don't get the same class I taught in the fall. I had to fail several students, which means they will likely be back to take it again, and I don't want to have to deal with that. Thankfully, my own class schedule may make it impossible for me to teach that particular course.

The shooting that happened in Arizona this weekend also reminds me of what can potentially materialize within college settings. I worry about the set up of the class I was teaching in last semester: there is no cell reception down there, there are no phones connected to landlines, there is no way to get a gurney into that area of the building. I'm going to press this issue tomorrow at the meeting, or at least bring it up. There should, at the very least, be a phone in that room. I got an email a week ago indicating that there was a person with a gun on the UNM campus and that there was a lock down. If I am teaching I won't be checking email. I wouldn't have cell reception, and I personally don't get text messages nor would I read a text message during class. How exactly am I to be contacted in the event of an emergency? The set up in the basement of the building I teach in is grossly under-prepared for ANY kind of emergency or accident.

Not all is negative. With the new semester, Matt and I are planning on getting in shape and doing a better job of watching our money. I'm going to start this month paying off the few debts I have and building up emergency savings. There are a lot of things to look forward to this semester, which I'll keep up on in my blog.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

CT Holiday Recap

Despite my best efforts to keep up with my blog, the past week has been kind of a train wreck, so I haven't been up to the task. This is also supposed to be a blog about my PhD, and currently, I haven't done anything academically related since I'm on break.

After Christmas I had a couple of days of just hanging around; the blizzard we got made travel extra exciting and I had to postpone my trip to PA to pick up Matt by one day. On the day of the blizzard, before it got really bad, I managed to meet up with Lura for some coffee. I tested the road-worthiness of my mom's little Ford Focus, and I have to say, it isn't nearly as good as my station wagon for managing winter conditions. I had a nice visit with Lura, although it was short, and made it home without incident.

Once the blizzard let up I made the four hour journey to PA to visit with Matt and his family for an afternoon. Then, the two of us started back for CT. Somewhere past Scranton I started to feel a little queezy. 2am rolled around once we were back home, and I was violently ill for a good 12 hours. I figured it had to be food poisoning, since it came on so fast and I felt a little better once I was thoroughly empty. This turned out to not be the case, because two days later, on New Year's Eve, Matt became violently ill with all the same symptoms. So far, thankfully, no one else I was around has gotten sick. This is especially important for my grandmother, who isn't in the best of health anyway. Hopefully no one else catches it. It was absolutely no fun, and the end part of my visit in CT was spent sick. Rather than visiting with people I had been waiting months to see, Matt and I were eating applesauce and broth and watching horrible daytime television. But, that happens, sometimes breaks are spent sick. I can vividly recall spending a couple Christmases as a child with the flu. In a lot of ways, I'm glad I was home with my mommy and Matt, instead of trying to find people to cover me at work back at school. This could have happened during the semester, which would have introduced a whole other dimension of annoyance.

Yesterday we took the train in to DC to visit with Matt's family and friends for the rest of the break. Matt still isn't back to eating regularly; I am, but with some mild discomfort. The next couple of days will only bring better health. The train ride into Virginia was pleasant, it was nice not driving and I'll definitely use it again for this kind of trip. I think the train is seriously underrated as a means of transportation in this country. It's not always the most convenient, but when it works out it is great.

As for the people I didn't get to visit with at home, and the plans I needed to back out of, I'll definitely be back for a visit in the summer. That's such a long ways off, though. Spring break in March is still uncertain, I was hoping to go somewhere in the South to visit friends down there. The invitation to come see us in New Mexico is still open, however, if anyone wants to take us up on it.